A burglar who was part of a four-man gang who targeted the south Belfast home of a vulnerable woman while posing as policemen has narrowly escaped going to prison.
Patrick Doran (20), of Poppyfield Court, Northampton, England, was given a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to his part in the "terrifying'' burglary on March 4, 2013.
The drug addict also pleaded guilty to assaulting a man who gave chase to him as he tried to flee the scene at Olympia Parade.
Belfast Crown Court heard that in the seven weeks leading up to the burglary, the victim told police that a person would knock on her door three times a week in what a prosecuting barrister said was a "scouting'' mission.
The lawyer said that on the day of the incident, the elderly woman was talking to her son on the phone when the front door of her house was "kicked in''.
"Four males entered the house wearing black hats and one of them had a stocking over his head,'' said prosecuting barrister David McClean.
"They shouted they were police and they ran up the stairs. They said they were forensic officers and they were going to search the house.
"They pushed the vulnerable woman into the front upstairs bedroom. They pulled her hair and shoved her onto the bed and started pulling out the drawers saying they were searching for drugs.
"She had a West Highland terrier dog who jumped up onto the bed beside her and started barking before one of them threw the dog out onto the landing. They pulled her hair and pushed her down onto the bed.''
The court heard the victim recognised Doran when he put his hands over his face to shield his identity as the man who had been previously knocking on her door.
"They took a briefcase down from a cupboard and started asking her questions about the briefcase," the court was told.
The barrister said one of the gang produced an 18-inch long metal bar and started to "bash open the briefcase''.
"The lady in question says she was quite terrified when this metal bar was produced.
"She suffers from angina and when she tried to reach for her medication, she was pushed back down onto the bed," he said.
Deputy Belfast Recorder Judge Corinne Philpott heard that the woman told police she heard a car horn blow when her son and a work colleague arrived.
"The car horn was sounded to advise them to leave the premises as somebody had arrived,'' said the prosecuting barrister.
The four-man gang then fled the house with a quantity of "sentimental'' jewellery, including an engagement ring and wedding ring belonging to the victim's late mother, a pearl necklace and an Albert chain.
Two of the gang jumped into a waiting silver car and sped off before police arrived.
Mr McClean said Doran and an accomplice fled on foot in the opposite direction to the car as the victim's son and work colleague gave chase up Olympia Parade.
"Her son shouted 'Stop thief. Stop him.' A number of men gave chase. Witness Stephen McDowell ran up to Doran and he was punched in the face, sustaining a cut on his left side,'' he added.
"Mr McDowell then wrestled the defendant to the ground.''
Doran was then arrested.
Judge Philpott said the aggravating factors in the case were that the burglary was committed on the home of a vulnerable woman, the burglary was planned, Doran had played some part in the planning in the weeks leading up to the burglary in 'scouting' her home and a metal bar was brandished in her home.
The Deputy Belfast Recorder said in mitigation, Doran was aged 19 at the time of the offences, his guilty plea to both counts, the fact that he was not a major planner of the burglary, his expression of "genuine remorse'' and a relatively clear record.
Doran was sentenced to concurrent terms of two years for burglary and one year for assault, suspended for three years.